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Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon on Leica SL — a Joy to Focus and Still the Best Overall M Lens

See my Leica M wish list and Leica SL wish list B&H Photo.

DEAL: Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon has a $250 rebate and 4% rewards.

Speaking to total imaging satisfaction, I wrote Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon: I rate it the best M Lens Available back in 2014. These past few days, I did a bunch of shooting with the 35/1.4 Distagon on the Leica SL and I reiterate and re-emphasize that claim: on an all-around basis, I think the Zeiss ZM 35/1.4 Distagon is the best M lens, cheaper and better than the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (sharpness, bokeh, etc see the link above).

Putting the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon through its paces on the Leica SL, the stunning wide open micro contrast I noticed immediately on the Leica M240 back in 2014 is a beauty to behold on the Leica SL, with outstanding crispness that pops in and out of focus using the high-res EVF of the SL. This is how EVF focus ought to look! It’s enjoyable.

At just 41% of the cost of the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, the ZM 35/1.4 Distagon is a screaming deal.

See also:

Mining Structures at Cerro Gordo Mine
f1.4 @ 1/15 sec, ISO 100; 2016-06-09 20:22:46
LEICA SL (Typ 601) + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon

[low-res image for bot]
View from Assay Building, Cerro Gordo Mine
f5.6 @ 0.4 sec, ISO 100; 2016-06-09 20:04:46
LEICA SL (Typ 601) + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon

[low-res image for bot]
Assay Shed Bathed in Red Sunset Light
f5.6 @ 0.8 sec, ISO 100; 2016-06-09 20:19:38
LEICA SL (Typ 601) + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon

[low-res image for bot]

Murray O writes:

I’d have to agree with you re: ergonomic awkwardness. It is puzzling why they cannot get the haptics right. Has an odd Teutonic clumsiness to it, like the T.

I spent just an hour at B&H the other week testing the SL and Sony a7II; the EVF on the Sony was still toy-like by comparison, as was the feel of the body. I like the Sony but it lacks in solidity and remains a work in progress. I was, however, blown away by the EVF on the Leica. Expecting obsolete tech at intro from Leica, it was startlingly refreshing.

DIGLLOYD: the EVF is outstanding (at least for now, it won’t have the lead for long I expect), except that it has poor discrimination for high-key tones and colors.

The haptics of the Leica SL are not serious. Leica SL users make all sorts of rationalizations, about the haptics, for that is what it is: the SL usage is a modal jump-through-hoops multi-push process, even after programming the buttons (and some cannot even be programmed, like the video button—just video or nothin'). The buttons also regularly fail to take input as I repeatedly saw yesterday. I had the same problem with the Leica S and previous SL. The one saving grace is the push-button joystick, a huge improvement over the dismal experience on the S. With practice I’ve adapted to the SL, but it remains inferior to a Canon or Nikon DSLR in haptics. All of this is a bad joke with gloves, particularly the twitchy joystick. I find the menus still confusing after using the SL for a week. One adapts over time no doubt, but it’s a testament to a very poor thought process. I’m forced (as with many cameras) to deal with setting after setting pertaining to JPEG. If there were a My Menu, I could at least bypass all that crap—it fundamentally degrades the user experience. Leica either offers crazy sh*t like a digital M with no LCD, or state of the art EVF with crummy haptics. It is incoherent.

While I agree that Sony A7R II build quality and overall feel is toy-like, and that the EVF needs a big bump up in quality, the simple fact is that I can operate the Sony A7R II far more efficiently, and that is has real buttons which can all be programmed, and always work.

John G writes:

I love the haptics. Weirdly, like you, I also like the Pentax and Nikons. I didn't like the Leica at all at first. But I've become accustomed to how the Leica SL operates, and can access anything I need instantly.

DIGLLOYD: The ideal world allows everyone to like what they want, and to decide for themselves.

I adore the SL EVF for its high-res quality, but and a BIG ONE: the Leica SL EVF is unusable with polarized sunglasses. In the outdoors, sunglasses are a mainstay and mandatory in snow or bright granite. The Sony EVF works fine with polarized sunglasses. For me then, the usability of the SL in bright conditions is thus marginal at best because I must constantly remove my sunglasses, or all I see is black. Try shooting in solstice sunlight on snow with the SL. What a pain in the eyes.

Then when it gets dark, it becomes all but impossible to focus with an f/3.4 or f/3.8 M-lens. Maybe I’m missing a setting? Past ~2 seconds @ f/3.8 @ ISO 100 the view is very dim and somewhat grainy. Game over—plenty of good stuff to shoot with 5/10/30 seconds exposures.

Things I do not adore about the SL: long startup time, twitchy joystick (a real problem with gloves), too many button presses to view/delete, no RGB histogram, no My Menu, menu-driven system is awkward at best. Too easy to delete more than one file with that twitchy joystick (or to change focus position). Then once buttons are programmed to my liking sometimes they do not respond when pressed 2/3/4/5 times, then respond the 6th time (varies you get the idea); I had the same behavior with the previous SL and Leica S too. Grip does not contour/conform to hand; it is just a tube. Camera is very heavy. Auto exposure is a total 'FAIL' with M lenses when it gets dark; manual exposure mandatory (SL seems to cut off exposures at ~2 seconds, e.g., f/4 at 2 sec, then f/5.6/8/11 all at 2 seconds—insanely broken). There’s more, but its just not a mature product IMO.

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